Romeo and Juliet Reviews
If I don't say first the good things I found in this movie, I will be so caught up in ripping into its fallacies that I will say nary a nice word about it, even though the naughty words could match the amount of words cut from Shakespeare's text to make this piece of... Oh, let's just get to it.
Carlo Carlei is a competent, yet sumptuous director. He imbues in this film a jewel-toned, romantic atmosphere that recalls both Zeffirelli and Lurhman's turns, but still provides a certain kind of mistiness over the fated tragedy that falls in line with its target audience's taste level(clearly teenagers considering its PG-13 rating; this follows on the heels of the end of the Twilight Saga, which has similar cinematography and themes). This feels right, as the first appearance of Juliet in this film is not as her father barters her off to Paris, but as she's running through the halls with the Nurse and filling them with laughter. Clearly, he realizes that history has not been kind to her, and he attempts to give Juliet, and even Lady Capulet, more room to grow as characters. Considering the target audience, however, the film does not seem to take the maturity of Shakespeare seriously. Instead of complex relationships and growing character arcs, we get boiled down stereotypes of stock characters. We don't get to see a conflicted, tragedy in Tybalt-- only a black hat pretty boy villain, who not even Lady Capulet can mourn for very long. Mercutio spits his lines as though they're just words, not ideas, and thus Queen Mab is not nearly the force of expression she is for Zeffirelli or Lurhman's boys. Instead of a lovesick youth on the rebound, who makes stupid decisions and feels too much, Romeo is a stoic, brooding Byronic hero, who sculpts and draws because he's "sensitive" and "beautiful." And Juliet, who on first glance seems to want to have her own story to tell, dissolves into an audience guide who lives to idolize her Romeo. The fact that the target audience is probably primarily teenage girls propels the camera to experience the chiseled wonder of Douglas Booth's Romeo through her eyes-- though for this adult viewer my own eyes rolled more than a few times at it lingering on Booth's face. The only true characters who become something more beyond the text are the Capulet parents, who appear to have the most authentic version of this relationship captured on screen (especially thanks to Damian Lewis's wild performance as Lord Capulet), and Friar Laurence, who speaks the same watered down No-Fear-Shakespeare Fellowes text the others mouth off, but does it in a convincing, charming way, and you really have to agree with the Prince, who pardons him in the end for his service in the young couple's death. This is clearly thanks to the actors who portray them, and to Carlei's direction, who focuses much time on developing these more minor characters. He finds new life in them out of their own existence within the text.
But Julian Fellowes, the screenwriter, has other ideas. Julian Fellowes has the audacity to rewrite Shakespeare.
Visual storytelling is essentially what makes cinema an art form, and if a keen directing eye is all you need to make a beautiful film, then this one would have the highest of marks. But this is not just any film-- it is an adaptation of Shakespeare, which, let's be honest, survives on its vitality of verbal language. But Julian Fellowes clearly didn't attend school the day they taught this lesson, or he just thinks he's "too cool" for "thees" and "thous" and other "Shakespeare-isms" that kids these days just don't get. I imagine he defends his bastardization (yes, I'm saying it) of Shakespeare as being accessible to these younger kids, this "Twilight" generation, just like he defends the many many many never-ending plot twists done in the name of sensationalism when he rounded out the back seasons of Downton Abbey (side note: I'll never forgive him for Sybil!). Yes, cuts have been done before to Shakespeare's text for the sake of streamlining plot and run-time, but it occurred to me as I followed along with the original text that almost every single scene in the play is included in this adaptation.
You'd think that would be a positive attribute, considering some of these scenes probably have never seen the light of a projector before. But actually this is where he fails in understanding what makes Shakespeare accessible-- the words words words! The plots have never been as important as the poetry itself, as Shakespeare himself would probably tell you. Taking most of his plots from history and legend, Shakespeare understands the value of adapting plot to suit ones literary needs, but filmmakers in the past have appropriately used Shakespeare to suit their visual needs. Take for instance the recent film Warm Bodies -- released the same year as this mess, for the same target audience. As an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, it is hardly accurate-- it's more a loose retelling, complete with loose limbs, loose eyeballs, and loose sense of genre. It is absurd in its goals, to take a Renaissance tragedy and combine it with modern apocalyptic warfare, and turn it into a romantic comedy, but it succeeds because the ideas of Shakespeare are present, vital, yet subtle. If Mr. Fellowes wanted to do a retelling of Shakespeare (the end credits suggest as much), he would have done better to actually rewrite the story entirely, with all new dialogue and agenda, like Warm Bodies does. But what is the point of starting your film with "Two households, both alike in dignity" if you don't finish with, at least, "A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life"? Fellowes wants the audience to think that this script comes directly from Shakespeare with its large(ish) swathes of word for word lines of the play, so that he can get away with rewriting the parts that are too confusing for younger viewers. Or he just thinks he can write it better, which wouldn't surprise me coming from him. For instance, the "pilgrim's hands" scene, and other important speeches, are kept intact, but in the scene where Friar Laurence and Juliet decide on the plan to prevent her marriage to Paris, nearly the entire scene, including the gist of all the dialogue, is there, but the words themselves are completely different. Why? It seems like for no reason other than to be different. Instead of letting Shakespeare do the talking, as other directors have respected and done, Fellowes decides that Juliet must literally say she'd rather be in a tomb (hint hint: she will be, viewer!) than marry Paris. But Shakespeare says the same thing, only much, much better. And this audience knows that.
The only thing in fair Verona worth watching again was the tournament shown at the beginning of the film. As for first timers to Shakespeare's works you must understand that there is "nothing natural about Shakespeare on film" as told by my film professor Keith Botelho.
If you are new to the play first note the language, setting, and costumes match the expected guidelines. However, the director Carlo Carlei undermines and falls short of the Greatness that is William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Also, understand that as an audience to film we are manipulated by the camera and the angles that the director decides to input. At a play house, we control our eyes and what they see. We watch what we want when we want. It is organic and authentic.
Director Carlo Carlei tries to match Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, but Carlei falls short of Zeffirelli's beautiful masterpiece. Trailing Zeffirelli with every thought, he put into this movie. Carlei gave a flat and dull adaptation. Except for the elegance of Paul Giamatti's Friar Laurence, who had an excellent performance as one of Shakespeare's characters. As for the other characters:
Christian Cooke aka Mercutio gave an underperformed and flat performance as the witty close friend of Romeo. Benvolio played by Kodi Mcphee seemed to have a closer bond to Romeo than anyone else. Ed Westwick performed a violent and hot-tempered Tybalt. Mr. Westwick nailed the attitude yet still seem to bore me. Lesley Manville gave an exhilarating performance as the nurse. Damian Lewis and Tomas Arana gave professional performances as Lord Capulet and Lord Montague.
If you have never seen an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, then this one will suffice, but it will not teach you everything you need to know.
First, the many virtues of this play come with the authentic setting and story. Carlei's movie decided to keep that infamous Shakespearean language, and the costumes matched the preferred outfits of the setting. He chose an excellent line-up cast as far as aesthetics and beauty go, but his camera angles and deleted scenes/ lines did not stay faithful to the original work of art. However, by the end of the play, you get the point that Shakespeare wanted his audience to understand.
Second, the film deleted and changed some things including the ending. Which bothered me as a huge fan of Shakespeare's works because the ending should not be tampered with like Carlei's Romeo and Juliet.
Doulgas Booth, Romeo, and Hailee Steinfeld, Juliet, gave the crowd the passionate love story that ended with them kissing then dying for each other just like the original script, except Carlei, had them do a few things that weren't in the original script. Plus, Friar Laurence at the end never gave his apologetic speech about how he knew everything. It just cut to the scene where Lord Capulet and Lord Montague shook hands and make peace. I was not a fan.
As a new generation installs their interpretation of the two lovers, Shakespeare watches from above with disappointment. But not all was bad. I liked many of the cast members and their personalities they brought to the movie. Tybalt seemed like an angry antagonist, Romeo was in lust, Juliet wanted to escape with Romeo's magnetizing good looks and hypnotic words. However, his mesmerizing persona did not save this film. Neither did Mercutio, portrayed by Christian Cooke, who seemed to be a little boring compared to the Mercutio played by John McEnery in Zeffirelli's adaptation. There also wasn't enough love between Mercutio and Romeo. They were best friends and had a close bond. Where was that Carlei? Benvolio and Romeo seemed closer than any other couple in the movie.
Even Director Jonathan Levine took a different approach. A more unnatural approach. Pun intended. However, this is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. A story about two strange worlds colliding. The Undead and the Alive. I understand that Levine did not want to take a conventional approach which is understandable. Because not everyone can live up to the Shakespearean standard.
Director Jonathan Levine's "Warm Bodies" and Carlo Carlei's "Romeo and Juliet" Gives this generation a 0 for 2 with Romeo and Juliet Adaptations. If you have seen Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, then do not waste your time. If you are a huge fan of the Shakespeare works and would like your own interpretation, then watch.
The movie kicks off with a jousting scene between the two families, the prologue from the original script being voiced over the set up. Added lines alter the prologue somewhat, with an addition of a tournament created by the prince: "And so the prince has called a tournament to keep the battle from the city streets. Now rivals Capulets and Montagues, they try their strength to gain the royal ring." While this addition to the story could've added somewhat of a unique touch to the otherwise lacking film, the jousting tournament doesn't seem to be brought up for the remainder of the film; making the addition oddly placed and useless to the overall plot. The rest of the film follows the majority of the original timeline of events, cutting out a few chunks of dialogue here and there, but otherwise remaining somewhat true to the text. And while sticking so closely to the play, itself, might lend itself to a perfectly fine film, the lack of a unique element results in the film blending in amongst the many other retellings of the tale.
The performance from the actors also leave a lot to be desired, which only aids in furthering the bland nature of the film, itself. Mercutio, in particular, seems to be very one dimensional the entire duration of the film. Rather than portraying the back and forth leap between over-the-top antics that introduce a bit of humor to the tragic plot, and an unexplained combination of anger and sadness that proceeds to unfold in his several speeches, Christian Cooke maintains one tone to his portrayal of Mercutio. The varying emotions often associated with the role are a big part of Mercutio's overall characterization, and without it, his death often leaves little impact on the audience.
Much like in other recent adaptations of Romeo and Juliet-namely the 2011 cartoon parody, Gnomeo and Juliet-the original language is simplified to something more 'accessible.' While Gnomeo and Juliet takes the approach of implementing puns into a few of the more famous lines from the original script (i.e. "What's in a gnome," rather than "What's in a name"), the 2013 adaptation kept most of the lnguage in tact, while exchanging certain phrases with more literal, simplistic language-likely based on the assumption that a younger generation is unable to find entertainment value in the original text. And while that makes sense in the case of Gnomeo and Juliet, a film targeted primarily towards children, it should be assumed in an adaptation that sticks fairly close to the source material (more so than a film focused around rival yard gnomes, at least), that the majority of the audience would go into the film knowing of the original text, and holding some sort of expectation towards the film script including similar language of the original text. So while an altered script might be expected in a film adaptation, it shouldn't be automatically assumed that a younger generation is incapable of following dialogue they're already likely well-acquainted with.
One of the redeeming qualities I found in the film, however, came in the form of the pleasant imagery presented throughout. The lighting and coloring of the film, coupled alongside the various shots of scenery, make for a visually stunning set up. The scenes centered around the courtyard and the balcony, in particular, were incredibly pleasing to the eye, with flowers and greenery framing nearly every shot filmed in that specific location. And while the imagery definitely added something to the overall film, the lack of gripping characterization and the fact that nothing unique was added to an adaptation that has already been done numerous times, leaves the film feeling mostly flat, despite the pleasant visuals that the audience is offered.
Overall, regardless of the beauty found within the scenic shots of the film, there's nothing specifically unique or new that this adaptation offers the audience. I found Romeo & Juliet to be nothing more than a "dumbed-down" retelling of the original text, with nothing special to pull it out of the pile of various, lackluster adaptations and have it stand out amongst the rest.
For ages 13+